Vegan Dinner spins Mediterranean magic

Because The Tenant had weekend guests, I’m a bit behind reporting on the latest Vegan Dinner. But now that I have a bit of time to describe it, one word covers it well: WOW.

Festivities began with the platter of mezze, the Mediterranean term for a selection of small dishes served as appetizers. This particular selection of mezze was so delicious and filling it could serve as a meal in and of itself!

Laid out beautifully on a platter atop a trio of romaine lettuce leaves and dusted with spice were an assortment of Rice-Stuffed Grape Leaves, Tabbouleh Salad, Hummus, Greek Olives and Spanakopita, accompanied by still-warm toasted pita wedges and lemon slices. I’m Southern Italian on my father’s side and we suspect there’s some Greek in our heritage, too, even if we can’t directly point to it, so to me this is like ethnic soul food in many ways. I didn’t grow up eating it, but something in me just gravitates to eating it very naturally. What struck me most strongly about this platter was that everything on the plate was just so absolutely fresh. The hummus, that well-known paste of ground chickpeas, seemed as if it had literally just been made, and spread on a piece of warm toasted pita wedge, it was simply fantastic. The tabbouleh salad was cool and rich with flavor and smacked perfectly of lemon juice and mint. The stuffed grape leaves, or dolmades, were delightful little packages of tasty rice. The spanakopita, normally a spinach-feta cheese turnover, was still warm, the phyllo dough crisp and flaky. Obviously, the cheese used must have been vegan, but I couldn’t tell the difference. And the olives were a true treat.

This dish alone nearly filled me up. It was all I could do to find room for the rest of the meal. But it’s a good thing I did find room for at least part of it, because the vegan moussaka was wonderfully done.

Layers of eggplant, tomato, spices and a custard made with a soy-milk base–indistinguishable to me from traditional moussaka custard–topped a healthy pile of yellow couscous. Yum. I couldn’t finish it all that night, but I am doing so tonight.

What can I say? I had to make some type of room for dessert–or at least try. And I’m glad I did, because the Apple, Apricot and Pine Nut Galette with
Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise was superb.

Flaky open pastry, tender and sweet fruit accented with toasty pine nuts, snowed with powdered sugar and an amazingly rich creme anglaise served on the side to pour over the top–thick, rich, indistinguishable from dairy–and all of it served heartwarmingly hot, as the best pastry should be. Divine!

If you’re vegan, and you’ve never tried the Bistro’s vegan dinners, you owe it to yourself to give them a try. If you’ve been considering going vegan for whatever reason, trying one of these dinners will open your eyes to the amazing things talented chefs can do to make vegan dining just as varied and tasty as any other dietary choice. But as always, I wouldn’t recommend taking my word for it. Tasting is believing!


“Hello Summer” Vegan Dinner refreshing and delightful

The vegan dining was perfectly suited to the season with last night’s “Hello Summer” 3-for-$30 special. Yes, The Tenant has enjoyed yet another meatless and everything-else-animal-less meal at the Bistro’s talented hands.

First on the menu was Wild Field Greens Salad with Blueberries, Strawberries, Sunflower Seeds and Toasted Almonds with Blueberry Vinaigrette. This was the ideal refreshing summer salad, with a variety of crisp greens mixed with the freshest blueberries and sliced strawberries, scattered with sunflower seeds and toasted almond slivers. The blueberry vinaigrette was a fantastic complement and this salad set the stage for an excellent meal.

The main entree, Gardein “Chicken” Scallopini atop Asparagus, Pea, Meyer Lemon and Basil Risotto, arrived looking utterly irresistible, and indeed it was. The gardein, as usual, was a terrific analog for chicken, breaded and topped with a little garnish of frizzled onions that made it even tastier. The risotto was a dream: creamy and rich with the flavor of fresh asparagus, carrot strips, basil and the light kiss of Meyer lemon throughout. As it happened, my friend Mary was in the Bistro last night and she had to have a taste of the risotto, even though she’s not any more of a vegan than I am. She pronounced it delicious, which I thought she would. I guess this means she’s really going to love the risotto that arrives with the scallops at next week’s white wine dinner! I know I will!

To top it all off, the dessert, Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble, arrived bringing more summery flavors. This was a sweet and pungently tart mixture of strawberries and rhubarb under a crumbly sweet crust, topped with whipped almond milk and a garnish of fresh rooftop mint. Yum!

The 3-for-$30 was a feast for vegans, as well as a bit of a preview of the delights available at next week’s “Hello Summer” White Wine Dinner. If you are not vegan, or not strictly so, sign up for this one before it’s too late! With the combination of carefully selected white wines and Chef Ruth’s cuisine, it’s sure to be a satisfying way to kick off summertime. Hope to see you there!

“OPA!” dinner was something to cheer about!

OK, The Tenant is a little embarrassed. Something happened to me and I forgot the “OPA!” dinner was Wednesday of this week, not Thursday. Where my head went, I don’t know. Luckily, however, I didn’t miss it, because it would have been a shame to miss out on all this divine Greek cuisine and wine. If you were there too, you know that spirits were high at this dinner and for a good reason: it not only had those components, but an extra touch of Greek ambiance provided by both traditional and nontraditional Greek music on the stringed instrument known as the bouzouki. It was enough to make anyone wish the Bistro was big enough to accommodate a dance floor!

Things started out on a classic note with the serving of Lamb Keftede with Tzatziki Sauce, sitting on a bed of greens. Keftedes are Greek meatballs, made with bulgur, and ground lamb is a traditional meat used in them. These keftedes had a delightfully crunchy fried outside and tender, meaty, spicy interior with a hint of mint. The yogurt sauce atop them was a cool and tasty complement. This course was paired with Nemea ’05, a light-bodied red wine with touches of plum and cherry.

Next came a frequent feature of Greek cuisine, a fish course. This one was presented as Sea Bass in the Style of Corfu, which meant we received a perfectly cooked slice of sea bass surrounded by the most tender and buttery roasted vegetables you can imagine. Artichokes, tiny potatoes, and Greek olives were accented with lemon, rosemary, and garlic cloves roasted to pure sweetness. The wine partner for this one was Moschofilero ’09, a white wine made from an aromatic Greek grape that I found smooth and airy, a good wine for the fish.

The salad course followed, and this salad was definitely not the same old mix of greens. The Greek Village Salad was a mixture of marinated chunks and slices of cucumber, red and yellow pepper, grape tomatoes, feta cheese and Greek olives. Each serving was topped with a dolmade, the classic Greek cabbage-roll-like concoction of rolled grape leaves stuffed with rice, and accompanied by a slice of freshly baked and grilled pita bread. The astringent, slightly minty salad was a refreshing change of pace, especially with the Santorini ’06, a dry and fragrant wine made from grapes described to us as being especially suited for the volcanic, ashy soil, hot sun and breeze off the Aegean Sea where they are grown. You can even taste a hint of the soil’s ashiness and minerality in the wine, if you pay close attention.

The next dish was one of the more familiar Greek dishes: spanakopita, the traditional phyllo-dough creation filled with feta cheese and spinach. Chef Ruth added a special touch to this one, though, by including chicken in the filling and saucing it with a dill-lemon beurre blanc that was simply heavenly. It was savory and yet slightly sweet, just perfect. The wine alongside was a Merlot-Xinomavro blend, a marriage of familiar Merlot with one of Greece’s principal red wine grapes that makes for a wine with a deep, full body and a great deal of warmth.

Course number five was Shrimp Santorini: a concoction of two plump, spicy shrimp in a sauce of tomatoes, feta cheese, peppers and onions topping a tender bed of orzo, the small ricelike pasta. This was an especially savory and amazing combination with a slight licorice or anise hint from the ouzo blended into the sauce. The traditional Greek liqueur gave it just the tiniest kick. Our wine for this course was Naoussa ’04, from the same Macedonian region as Xinomavro, another red but lighter than the Merlot-Xinomavro blend.

The evening came to a finish with a dessert course that reflected Chef Ruth’s sense of imagination. It has often seemed to me that all Greek desserts consist of only three different ingredients: wheat (as phyllo dough or shredded wheat), nuts, and honey, but this presentation was just a little different. The Phyllo Nests with Fresh Berries and Honey-Infused Crème Fraîche were a nice variation on the traditional, as was the very tiny — and very delicious — Caramelized Pistachio, Walnut, and Almond Tartlet in a miniature phyllo cup. With this course came Metaxa Brandy, which provides a warm glow indeed to finish off the meal.

Everyone seemed to be truly getting into the spirit of this event and enjoying the special atmosphere provided by the musical stylings of Abe “Dr. Bouzouki” Anderson, who has been playing the instrument since he was 11 years old. The good doctor, born in Australia but now living in Euclid, boasts quite the repertoire, much of which we had the opportunity to enjoy. In addition to the songs you expect to hear from a Greek musician — “Zorba the Greek,” “Never on Sunday” and such — he plays a mean Hava Nagila, and can segue from that to “Turkey in the Straw” without missing a beat. From The Godfather to Fiddler on the Roof, he seems to do it all! To hear him in action, check out his YouTube channel, or go see him with his band, Orion Express. He regularly plays the Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Festival on Mayfield Road in August, so if this dinner whetted your appetite for more Greek food and music, you can go there to hear more of him as part of a group. He seemed to have as good a time playing for us as we did listening to his music.

Once again, the Bistro served up a dinner unlike all the rest, with a selection of flavors to which we could respond only one way: “OPA!” Which, as Dr. Bouzouki helpfully pointed out to us, is Greek for “Yee-ha!” Don’t miss what’s on tap for May: watch this space for more information on the Sake Dinner!

Irish Spirits Dinner a most tasty trip!

The Tenant is pleased to report that I made it all the way through the most recent special dinner just fine, as I thought I would. And I’m so glad I did, because missing out on any of the courses in this one would have been sad indeed. Irish or not, the Irish Spirits dinner was enough to–OK, sounds corny, but true–have your heart dancing a jig!

It was fun to taste the various Irish spirits, but that wasn’t my primary reason for attending this one. I tend to be more of a food person, so while it was an education to try out the various liquid libations, I focused more on the edibles.

The first course of House-Smoked Irish Salmon Ravioli was just amazing. The ravioli was Ohio City Pasta, filled with the most tender and sensational smoked salmon, gently coated in a cream sauce that exuded the wonderful fragrance of dill right off the top. The delicate saucing was just ideal for this dish. It was accompanied by Bushmill’s 16 Year single malt whisky, which is powerful stuff indeed. As I said, I’m not big on alcohol in general, but my dining companion certainly enjoyed it, as I don’t doubt any fan of Irish spirits would.

Next was an unusual idea for an Irish platter. On St. Patrick’s Day, and even throughout Cleveland’s ethnic restaurants, corned-beef-and-cabbage specials abound. But who else bundles that dish into a neat, tidy little empanada? This one was fantastic, the empanada lightly flaky and not at all greasy, with the horseradish mustard sauce served alongside just the right condiment to bring out the flavors. This one belongs on the Happy Hour Menu! Alongside the empanada was a Potato-Leek-Bacon Chowder so creamy and rich with flavor that I could have eaten a potful.

The spirit accompanying this course was Boru Irish Vodka, which I found interesting for its smoothness and a kind of intriguing, slightly sweet taste. I’m used to thinking of vodka as flavorless unless some kind of flavor has been added, so this was a different experience for me. As strong as the legendary Irish king for whom it was named, Boru is made from pure spring water and distilled five times. Definitely a change of pace!

The third course was probably the most interesting to me from a “brand-new food experience” standpoint. I had never before had a Scotch egg: a shelled, hard-boiled egg, wrapped in a layer of sausage, then rolled in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. Well, now I know of something new to me that I like a lot! (I guess when it comes to fried food, and sausage, I am there.) Chef Ruth’s Scotch egg was served on a lovely, refreshing bed of leafy Bibb lettuce and drizzled with a delightful Green Goddess dressing that made it even tastier. The drink for this course was Magner’s Hard Irish Cider–quite different from what I’m used to thinking of as cider–more like apple juice with a kick.

The fourth course was a pair of Baby Lamb Chops with Mint Shallot Sauce, resting on a bed of mashed Red Bliss Potatoes with Spring Onions. The lamb was just slightly pink and oh, so tender. Now it can be told, I suppose: when asked, I shared a bite with someone (who shall not be named) who had not signed up for this particular dinner (being more of a wine buff) but who had come to the Bistro that evening anyway and couldn’t resist wanting to know what the lamb course was like. Well, once he tasted it, he was a pretty happy guy, which came as no surprise to me. Perhaps he had second thoughts! Regarding the potatoes, they were aptly named, because to me, they were pure bliss, with just a hint of cider vinegar in the sauce that really brought the flavor out. I never would have thought on my own that mashers would benefit from a touch of cider vinegar saucing, but these did, and in spades! Another “I could eat a whole pot of this alone” dish.

O’Hara’s Irish Stout was the drink of the course, and I had a sip or two, although I’m not really a stout drinker. I think the people across from me were more experienced in the realm of Irish spirits, though, and enjoying the chance to sample a wide variety like this.

Last, but most certainly not least, came the dessert course: Baileys Irish Cream Chocolate Mousse with Scones, Berries, and Clotted Cream. The clotted cream was served on top of each tiny, halved scone next to our ramekins of mousse. My dining companion summed up the scones excellently: “off the hook!” As for the mousse, it was topped with whipped cream made from more of the Baileys. My dining companion offered a taste of her mousse to a third party, who was very appreciative! I think we ended up convincing two more people that maybe they should’ve signed up for this dinner after all!

The final spirit was Homemade Tullamore Dew Irish Cream, which was tasty but seemed almost a surfeit of riches considering what we already had in the mousse and the cream. Still, a fine end to a very satisfying meal.

The takeaway? If you love great food but the lineup of alcoholic beverages at a given Bistro 185 dinner is a take-or-leave, you might want to give it a try regardless. Because if you don’t, you’re going to miss out on some incredible food that’s worth the price of the dinner on its own. And those of us who attend regularly can testify to that! Of course, if you are a huge fan of both Emerald Isle food and drink, this one had to leave your Irish eyes smiling.

Don’t forget: this dinner was not the end of special cuisine Irish-style at Bistro 185 this month. They’ll be wrapping things up this Wednesday with the 3-for-$30 Vegan Irish Dinner, so be sure to plan on stopping by on the 30th so as not to miss out. Is it possible to enjoy Irish cuisine without corned beef? You bet, when your Irish stew is made with gardein! Not to mention which, this is another chance to get some of those Red Bliss potato mashers that delighted me–and some more unbelievable mousse. So, get your Irish up and come to the Bistro Wednesday! You’re sure to enjoy it!

Vegan visit to India was tasty indeed!

The Tenant returns with a summary of last Wednesday’s Vegan Night 3-for-$30 offering India-style! Again, I have to say I’m impressed and amazed by what can be done with foods entirely vegan-sourced. From beginning to end, delicious!

The appetizer for this dinner was Chickpea-Onion Samosas with Cilantro and Mint Chutney and Field Green Salad with Tamarind Vinaigrette. It consisted of two samosas, delicate puff-pastry pockets fried until perfectly crispy, with a filling of mashed chickpeas and onions. The cilantro-and-mint chutney alongside looked almost like wasabi, and had almost the same level of heat due to the spices in it, so just a little at a time was all that was needed to accent the flavor of each bite. The salad was very lightly and tastefully dressed as well. A good start to the evening!

Next came the main dish, Cashew-Coconut Lemongrass Curry with Vegetables and Tofu and Organic Brown Basmati Rice. This was an amazingly flavored curry dish. I love cashews and I love coconut, so it was perfect for me. The sauce was aromatic and full of flavor from the lemongrass and curry, studded with vegetables like eggplant and cauliflower, and full of plenty of cashew nuts. It was garnished with a touch of cilantro. Altogether the flavors melded delightfully.

The meal concluded with an appropriate and charming dessert, Coconut-Cardamom Panna Cotta with Mango Coulis and Fresh Berries. The coconut and mango sauce made it just sweet enough, with the cardamom seeds (you can see them at the top) adding a little spicy kick. The berries, too, were a refreshing touch in the dead of winter. What I find interesting about vegan panna cottas is that like other dishes that would ordinarily use gelatin as a thickener or “jelling” agent, they instead use carrageenan, which is seaweed sourced. Carrageenan is already used in many commercial products, from toothpastes to dessert items. It’s just one example of how a dish can be made vegan without losing anything of the flavor or texture one would expect from the dish.

The entire meal was yet another example of how, under the touch of experienced chefs, vegan cuisine in the style of any country can be both authentic and a very enjoyable dining experience. And obviously I’m not the only one eating it up; they tell me this dinner sold out. Another example of “if you cook it, they will come!”

Be looking here for information on what the Bistro has planned for the next Vegan Night!

Enjoy the luck of the Irish at our Irish Spirits Dinner March 23

March is traditionally a month when it’s easy to find Irish spirit in the air…and Irish spirits flowing (along with an awful lot of green beer)…on the 17th, anyway. But why confine the celebrations to one 24-hour period? By the time St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, all of us in Northeast Ohio are tired of winter and ready for an extended spell of warm, sunny weather. So the more we can lighten up the atmosphere as we welcome springtime, the better!

Bistro 185 wants to extend that feeling a little, so on Wednesday, March 23, we’re rekindling the atmosphere of the Emerald Isle with an Irish Spirits Dinner. This feast will offer an interesting twist on classic Irish cuisine, coupled with a marvelous selection of beloved Irish spirits of all kinds. Take a look at this menu:

Course 1
House-Smoked Irish Salmon Ravioli with Dill Cream Sauce
Bushmill’s 16 Year

Course 2
Corned Beef and Cabbage Empanada with Horseradish Mustard Sauce
Potato-Leek-Bacon Chowder
Boru Irish Vodka

Course 3
Scotch Egg and Bibb Lettuce Salad
Magner’s Hard Irish Cider

Course 4
Baby Lamb Chops with Mint Shallot Sauce
Red Bliss Potatoes with Spring Onions
O’Hara’s Irish Stout

Course 5
Baileys Irish Cream Chocolate Mousse
Scones, Berries, and Clotted Cream
Homemade Tullamore Irish Cream

This dinner is $65 per person plus tax and gratuity. Don’t miss out–call for reservations at 216.481.9635 now!

“A Night in Budapest” is vegan magic

Greetings, Bistro fans and vegan cuisine fans. The Tenant is finally back, with some time out for a cold. I regret to say that as a result of this cold, I decided not to attend the $10 wine tasting this week (I never want to risk making any of the other fine Bistro patrons, or the terrific staff for that matter, ill if I can help it). If you attended, however, and have a comment you’d like to make, please feel free!

As for “A Night in Budapest,” the latest Bistro venture into gourmet vegan cuisine last week, that was a fine evening indeed (as you know if you tried it yourself). The 3-for-$30 meal began with a first course of Tomato-Fennel Soup with Cornmeal Dumplings:

This dish was delightfully spicy with its blend of tomatoes, fennel, onion, paprika, and other flavorings. The cornmeal dumplings were deliciously tender, and the whole thing was topped with fresh sprigs of dill. A wonderfully warming winter soup.

Then it was on to the main dish, Vegan Chicken Paprikash with Potato Gnocchi:

This “chicken” was, as is true of many Bistro vegan dishes, made with gardein, which I’m told is made primarily from wheat gluten. Obviously not a choice for those with celiac or other issues requiring a gluten-free diet, but it does make an incredible chicken stand-in that is extremely difficult to tell from the real thing in terms of flavor. It worked perfectly in this dish, paired with classic traditional-tasting potato gnocchi and a sauce that, from my understanding, included cashew milk. It was rich, creamy in texture, and tasted just like something you might enjoy in a traditional home-cooking Eastern European ethnic restaurant.

The grand conclusion of the meal was Hungarian-Style Crepes with Apricot Preserves:

The crepes, made with almond milk and without eggs, were ultra-thin and delicious, layered with sweet fruit preserves, and accompanied by a snowing of powdered sugar, fresh berries, and “whipped cream” made with almond milk combined with a little tapioca to firm it up. A fantastic dessert and the perfect complement to the rest of the meal.

Altogether, “An Evening in Budapest” proved that even hearty, traditional ethnic cooking is possible using all vegan ingredients, and you won’t miss a bit of flavor!

Want more proof? Another opportunity is coming soon. On Wednesday, February 23, Bistro 185 presents “A Trip to India,” a three-course vegan dinner themed on Indian cuisine beginning to end:

First Course
Chickpea-Onion Samosas
Cilantro and Mint Chutney
Field Green Salad with Tamarind Vinaigrette

Cashew-Coconut Lemongrass Curry with Vegetables and Tofu
Organic Brown Basmati Rice

Coconut-Cardamom Panna Cotta with Mango Coulis
Fresh Berries

Sounds special, doesn’t it? The dinner will be available between 5 and 9 p.m.; to ensure yourself a reserved time, call 216.481.9635 now and prepay with your credit card. Cost is $30 per person, plus 20 percent gratuity and 7.75 percent tax additional.

At Bistro 185, vegan dining is more than just a meal; it’s a tasteful journey into everything this type of cuisine can be. Book yourself this passage to India now!

A toast to another top-notch Champagne Dinner!

Hi! The Tenant is back, and, along with Ruth and Marc, hoping you have had a wonderful holiday season so far. They have asked me to remind you that they’ll be open tonight for New Year’s Eve and open tomorrow night, New Year’s Day, for dinner, so you can put a nice cap on your holiday season fun. Are your out-of-town guests heading for home soon? Bring them to the Bistro for a nice New Year’s dinner. Then kick back, relax, and enjoy life returning to normal!

Now, about the Champagne Dinner last Tuesday…I’m not shy to tell you, after having suffered from a dragging-on illness last winter that kept me from being able to attend last year’s Champagne Dinner, I was really looking forward to this one. I had seen the pictures of last year’s, and they were mouthwatering enough to make my soul ache. So this was a Bistro dinner not to be missed for me — and apparently also not for a lot of other people, as the entire “restaurant side” of the Bistro was filled with this sellout dinner group. If you couldn’t make it, though, or didn’t reserve soon enough to get a spot, at least you’ll know what you missed. (This review might even give you a few ideas if you’re still looking for a good champagne to uncork tonight.)

The first course took no time setting the tone for an incredible meal. The Herbed Crêpe with Salmon Caviar, House-Cured Gravlax, Crème Fraiche and Poached Asparagus kicked things off excellently. It was an amazing combination of gentle, paper-thin crêpe, savory gravlax, slightly salty caviar, and dairy-fresh cream. The asparagus was just unbelievable in flavor…it tasted as fresh as if it had been picked off the roof in springtime. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten that fresh-tasting a vegetable out of season. The champagne with this course was also especially fine, Lamarca Prosecco. An Italian wine produced champenoise style every few months, and subjected to a panel review before being released (!), it has a just slightly sweet touch, but not excessively so. Not only that, but it’s an incredible deal, usually available for between $13 and $15 a bottle. Our wine rep of the evening, Greg Webster of Wine Trends, also advised us that it makes great mimosas, so if you’d rather have New Year’s brunch than a New Year’s toast, it’s a fine choice for that as well.

Chef Ruth really got to show off one of her favorite kinds of dishes to prepare in the second course, Duck Three Ways. I’ve heard her and Marc describe this kind of dish to me before, but I’ve never actually had the chance to enjoy it. At center plate: tender, rosy, gently fat-ringed slices of seared duck breast, topped with a delicious mango chutney. At one side, a hearty slice of duck pâté, rich with nuts and savory spice, dressed with a dollop of French grainy mustard. (I love the Bistro’s pâtés. One of my sisters and I have joked that if the liverwurst sandwiches our mother used to pack for our school lunches had only been made like this, we would have enjoyed them much more.) On the other side of the duck breast, a duck confit — tender leg of duck cooked in its own fat to fall-off-the-bone tenderness, then crisped and caramelized in a balsamic ginger glaze. Sounds good just reading about it, no? Oh, it is. The champagne for this course was Domaine des Baumard Brut Cremant Carte Turquoise, a Loire Valley pick that is drier than the Lamarca and well suited to this sweeter dish. It is also not a pricey selection, either!

It was time for the salad course, but this was honestly like no salad I’ve ever had before; it was on another plane. Marc had told me earlier that the basis of this Caesar salad was grilled Romaine lettuce. “Grilled?” I asked. I’ve heard of and enjoyed many kinds of vegetables being grilled, even fruits, to caramelize them and add a crispy texture, but this was the first time I’d ever heard of anyone grilling salad lettuce. Well, they grilled it, and it’s absolutely incredible. Each serving of salad consisted of grilled Romaine leaves topped with Caesar dressing and a shower of Parmesan shavings; four escargot shells, each containing a former resident sautéed to perfection in butter, garlic, and parsley (we had to tease the little devils out with canapé toothpicks); thin, grilled slices of baguette; and garlic cloves roasted until sweet and soft enough to spread on the baguette slices. Remove an escargot from its shell, place it atop the baguette slice smeared with garlic, and take a bite…ahh, perfection! Oh, and then take a sip from your glass of Casteller Cava Penedes, a Spanish sparkler even drier than the second champagne, but still lovely and not so astringent as to get puckery. It just danced on my tongue.

Course number four was a tender, savory chop from Australian aged rack of lamb, cooked perfectly with a crackly skin outside, topped with a rosemary-mint demi-glace that went just as well with the unbelievable Potatoes Anna as with the meat itself. The paper-thin-sliced potatoes were creamy and baked just enough to form the perfect crispy brown crust on top. The champagne for this course was a Laetitia Brut Cuvée, a blended sparkling white that was probably the driest of all we enjoyed. I’m not any more crazy about extreme dryness in wine than I am in too much sweetness, but this one didn’t go overboard and I liked it as much as the others.

Then came course five. To my mind, they were all great, but this was the one that had people around me moaning with pleasure and saying it just has to go on the specials menu. The Seafood Waffle Topped with Lobster-Shrimp-Crab Imperial sounds simple, and it is — but oh, how good! Each serving included one quarter of a round Belgian waffle made with a savory herbed batter; an absolutely huge, split, freshwater flame-grilled scampi shrimp; and a butter-soaked cream sauce studded generously with tender chunks of lobster, Laughing Bird shrimp, and crab. You may recall that a while ago Marc and Ruth explained that Laughing Bird is a brand of Caribbean white shrimp farmed in Belize, raised in filtered sea water, fed a vegetarian diet, never treated with additives or sulfites, and sold fresh. The end result is a shrimp that’s wonderfully succulent and sweet. As for the scampi shrimp, it was so big, plump, and sweet that some of my fellow diners mistook it for a lobster tail. It was that delicious! Along with it we were served Champagne Delamotte, a “capital-C Champagne” in that it’s from the actual region. It was a nicely dry complement to the rich, creamy, buttery seafood dish.

The meal came to a simple but delightful conclusion with a heavenly Chocolate Lava Cake (with the classic crusty exterior/liquid interior) on a bed of strawberry coulis, garnished with blackberries and topped with a generous snowfall of powdered sugar. With it, the only rose wine of the evening, Patrick Bottex Vin du Bugey-Cerdon, also the only one we were served in coupes rather than flutes. It was the fruitiest wine of the evening, but still not excessively sweet…just right.

The verdict: if you missed this dinner, oh dear…too bad, because you missed out on some amazing dishes and champagnes whose goodness is hard to express in mere words! You can, however, console yourself a bit by making a New Year’s resolution not to miss the next Bistro special dinner. This one’s going to be a post-Valentine’s Day fête that just might make an excellent gift for that special someone…the Chocolate Dinner, Wednesday, February 16, 2011. Don’t wait until the last minute, because this one is likely to be another sellout…call now at 216.481.9635 and make your reservations! Happy New Year!

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this blog confused the scampi shrimp with the Laughing Bird shrimp, which actually stay small but are especially sweet and tasty and were included in the seafood sauce.

Champagne Dinner menu is set!

Get your tastebuds prepared, because the menu and list of accompanying champagnes for our December 28 Champagne Dinner is ready!

First Course
Herbed Crepe with Salmon Caviar and Lemon-Tarragon Sabayon
House Cured Gravlax with Creme Fraiche
Poached Asparagus
Champagne: Lamarca Prosseco

Second Course
Duck 3 Ways: Seared Duck Breast, Duck Pate, Duck Confit
Champagne: Domaine des Baumard Brut Cremant Carte Turquoise

Third Course
Grilled Caesar Salad with Escargot and Slow-Roasted Garlic
Champagne: Casteller-Cava-Penedes

Fourth Course
Australian Aged Rack of Lamb with Rosemary-Mint Demi-Glace
Potatoes Anna
Champagne: Laetitia Brut Rose

Fifth Course
Seafood Waffle Topped with Lobster-Shrimp-Crab Imperial
Champagne: Champagne Delamotte

Sixth Course
Chocolate Lava Cake with Raspberry Coulis
Champagne: Paringa Sparkling Shiraz

If you’re a lover of fine food and great champagne, this is the ideal way to ring in the New Year early–away from the noise and crowds, in a nice, peaceful, civilized celebration. And wouldn’t it make the ideal holiday gift for someone special in your life?

Cost of the dinner is $75 plus tax and gratuity. We start at 6:30 sharp, serving up six courses of fabulous dishes and bountiful bubbly. Make your reservation at 216.481.9635 today!

Ay, caramba! We had a great Tequila Dinner!

The Tenant is back, and you’re going to have to make do with me for a while, because Ruth and Marc are going off on a well-deserved vacation. But they’ve entrusted me to write another of my reviews, this one of Wednesday’s Tequila Dinner. At this event, we were able to enjoy some of the many distilled forms of the blue agave plant, which is a succulent plant related to lilies — not a cactus, as some think. It’s been cultivated for many thousands of years, and people have been making tequila from it for quite a long time! We got to taste a few products of that experience.

Things got off to a rousing start with the combination of a Shrimp Tamale and two paired glasses on our tables: one of fresh pickle juice and one of Tierra Organic Blanco Tequila. Tierra is the only organic tequila sold in the United States, and blanco tequila is 100% agave tequila, unaged and untreated with additives. The contrast of the tart pickle juice with this slightly sweet tequila was a tastebud-tingler. So was the tamale, a combination of shrimp, plantain, cornmeal mush (with many tasty spicings and flavorings, including fresh cilantro and lime) served in a corn husk.

The second course was ropa vieja — shredded beef brisket cooked for 24 hours in a bath of Tex-Mex seasonings, seated atop jalapeño corn pudding, and topped with refreshing sour cream. But before it arrived, we were able to get a start on the accompanying tequila drink, an intriguing iced latte of Kahlua and Mexican chocolate known as a “Daring Dylan.” This drink, which I could enjoy as a substitute for chocolate milk any day of the week, featured Don Julio Anejo Tequila (aged in oak at least one year) and was rimmed with a very Mexican flavor combination of cocoa and cinnamon. OK, I admit it: the rim tasted so good, I licked it off!

You’d think the second course of a meal would be an odd place for a chocolate drink to be served, but the Daring Dylan was actually an excellent complement that helped cool the spicy-hot ropa vieja on the palate.

Next came another hearty dish, House-Made Black-Bean, Goat Cheese and Poblano Ravioli. These large, fairly flat ravioli were full of rich flavor from the beans, cheese, and poblano peppers, and sauced with a delicious roasted red pepper sauce streaked with cream. The tequila for this course was a powerful, pungent Don Julio Repasado (100% agave, stored in oak between two months and a year).

Following the intense flavors of this course came some gentle, cooling refreshment. Normally this point of a meal features a salad course, but this one was a little different: Chef Ruth had prepared three different kinds of guacamole. We each had a scoop of traditional guacamole made with avocados, a scoop of sweet and fresh guacamole made with mangoes, and a tart and tangy guacamole made with Marc’s smoked trout. The guacamoles were served with long fried plantain chips atop a bed of carrot and jicama slaw. These were very tasty; I thought the contrasting flavors of the mango and trout varieties were a fun and out-of-the-ordinary twist on the theme. The refreshment continued in the drink served with this course, a Mexican Mojito made with Don Julio Blanco Tequila, spiked with plenty of fresh rooftop-garden mint. Yum!

By this time, though, my eyes were getting bigger than my stomach. I had to have my fifth course, the Seafood Vera Cruz, packed up to go. But that was fine, because I had an absolutely wonderful lunch of it the next day! If anything, the seafood stew, rich with fish, mussels, shrimp and grilled scallop, full of peppers and onions and served over a timbale of saffron rice, tasted even better with the broth aging that extra day for the flavors to marry even more. Utterly delicious. The Tierras Organic Repasado tequila served with it was fiery and intense.

Somehow, even packing up the stew, I found room for the dessert course that night. And was it ever wonderful: tiny chocolate cups of margarita sorbet — like the most concentrated form of margarita slush you’ve ever had — along with smooth, soothing caramel flan and a fantastic churro, or Spanish fried doughnut stick, dipped deeply in molten chocolate. Mmmm-mmm! And the final drink was something special, too: a “Frisky Surprise” featuring Tierra Organic Anejo tequila. This slushy fruit drink was served in tall glasses with an orange slice, and was a refreshing and unusual treat.

So, it was another success for a Bistro 185 special dinner evening — but if you think this one was good, what Ruth and Marc (especially Ruth) are cooking up for October is really going to amaze you. Be sure not to be late signing up for it, because it’s going to be a dinner with a bit of a Halloween-style theme like you’ve never seen or tasted before. What is it? You’ll have to wait a little longer to find out. But watch this space — soon you’ll know!